Report: Apple Won’t Support 5G Until at Least 2020

Posted on December 3, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, iOS with 28 Comments

A Bloomberg report says that Apple won’t ship the first 5G-capable iPhones until late 2020, about a year after the rest of the industry.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Apple’s first iPhone ran on AT&T’s 2G network, EDGE, at a time when 3G was broadly available elsewhere. And Apple was late to the game with 4G/LTE, as well.

Bloomberg suggests that Apple’s tardiness “may make it easier for rivals like Samsung to win over consumers” during 2019’s transition to 5G. But moving slowly has never hurt Apple in the past. The iPhone has consistently been the best-selling smartphone model despite routinely ignoring features and technologies that are available elsewhere.

That said, 5G is a much bigger upgrade than the previous transition to 4G/LTE, which was aided by HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) technologies that helped 3G networks boost speed over time. Moving to 5G will perhaps be more like the transition to 3G, with dramatically increased performance.

Market leader Qualcomm will likely make some 5G announcements at its Snapdragon Tech Summit this week. I spoke with that firm earlier this year and was told that 5G was transformational because it would enable mobile devices to access cloud data more quickly than doing so via local storage.

So we’ll see. But Apple’s slowness here doesn’t surprise me. It’s the way they’ve always done things.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Report: Apple Won’t Support 5G Until at Least 2020”

  1. Daekar

    I know 5G is supposed to be up there with AI as the bestest thing ever in the whole wide world in a million years... but given everything I've read about 5G, I think Apple is smart to wait at least a year. Sure, it's great and all, but what is Joe Average really going to do with that speed? Surf Facebook faster? Power users will enjoy it, sure enough, but the only difference for Muggles will be that Netflix buffers less. Definitely better to let everyone else iron out the bugs and then bring a nice polished version to market.

    You can bet that we won't be dropping our grandfathered Unlimited 4G plan from Verizon for a normal 5G plan anytime soon, even if the infrastructure does roll out here in the near future. I would certainly consider a 5G installation to replace my cable plan if the bandwidth limits are reasonable for the money, but they won't be for years.

    • mattbg

      In reply to Daekar:

      A recent Intel promotion told me I'd be able to watch 8K video on my phone.

      I'm not sure why I'd even want 4K on my phone, and I'd hate to see the data bill if I did.

      Expectations seem completely unrestrained for what 5G is going to do.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Daekar: Well, Verizon is rolling out 5G (in Houston I believe) and their site is hawking it partially as a replacement for broadband. You can go and put in your address to check coverage. No, you can't find a coverage map. Likely because the single tiny red dot in the middle of Texas, on a map of the US would look sad.

  2. locust infested orchard inc

    And when 5G does eventually arrive on the iPharce / iNotch in 2020, iSheeple will be frolicking around with gleeful joy, blissfully unaware Blandroid phones featured the said feature the previous year.

  3. JerryH

    That's so funny that you spoke to someone from Qualcomm that is unaware of the laws of physics. Let see, you put some storage in the cloud. That's local storage for the cloud computers. It may be all NAS or SAN or whatever, but let's call it local to the cloud server. Then you put in a network to pipe the data around. This is subject to - at minimum - the speed of light (SoL) delay between you and the cloud server (it is usually well more than just SoL BTW due to conversions from one media type to another, routers, propagation speed of a signal in wire or fiber vs. in air, etc.).

    Now the Qualcomm person, without laughing somehow, says that loading something from the cloud server's local storage and pushing it across that network is going to be faster than just loading it from the local storage on the device? You'd have to have extremely fast storage on your cloud server and super slow storage on your phone for that to ever have even a chance of being true. And of course you'd blow through your data usage allocation really quickly. Overage fees, FTW!

    • kjb434

      In reply to JerryH: The laws of physics would prevent 5G from penetrating pretty much any wall. Add that for coverage you need antennas about 250 feet apart.

      Physics is the part that is never talked about even in over the air transmission with 5G

  4. MikeCerm

    I don't see what the fuss is with 5G. It's going to require new towers everywhere, it will take forever to roll out to anyone not living in a major city, and it's not going to matter at all in the day-to-day lives of normal people. 4G is capable of speeds faster than what most people get from their cable provider. The only thing really holding back cellular today is higher costs and data caps... And do people think that carriers are going to pay for a massive network expansion and then lower prices for consumers? Didn't happen with 4G, and it's not gonna happen with 5G. So really, why should anyone care about this?

  5. MikeGalos

    Apple does have a history of either being very late to a new technology or being so early that they force it before users are ready. Sometimes this works, often it doesn't. The world didn't switch to IEEE 1394 even when Apple gave it the friendly FireWire name and proclaimed it as their universal connection for example of the latter. In this, they're really like every hardware company. The difference is they push very hard to make themselves visible so they get identified with the successes and failures.

    • Jeffsters

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Apple and devil in my ear Mike makes a comment. But hey...the reason IEEE 1394 had adoption issues was the independent body set up that charged too high a price for licensing IBM the biggest obstacle. Thankfully it lives on as Thunderbolt. But let's look some of the others where Apple "forced" upon users, 3.5" Floppies, USB, mini-display port, WiFi, thunderbolt, multi-touch, the mouse, trackpads, all-in-one, digital music player, keyboardless phone, App Store, wearables, CarPlay, ApplePay and NFC...I remember what the old joke was that NFC stood for..."Nobody Fing Cares".

    • Stooks

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      I think their timing on 4G was actually perfect. When they finally did release 4G after most had done already, maybe 5% of the network was 4G.

      Honestly for what I do on a phone I could not even tell the difference from 3G to 4G. I did notice when they did turn off 2G/Edge or whatever it was called as my dead spots grew in our area especially for plain old calling.

  6. glenn8878

    New tech always take forever to arrive. USB-C is still not a thing. By the time Apple has 5G, people are ready to upgrade their iPhones. I'm sure most carriers aren't ready yet.

  7. BeckoningEagle

    I don't think it will matter. Unless you are using your phone as a hotspot for multiple users, LTE is adequate enough for most things.

  8. lvthunder

    I don't think it will be a problem. 5g will be so limited in the areas where there will be coverage for a while. Especially since they need a lot more towers or other things to attach the antennas to. That is going to take years.

  9. dontbe evil

    sell new iPhone in 2019 and seel new iPhone 5g in 2020...they're marketing genius.

  10. PeterC

    its quite well noted that apple will be ditching intel modem chips and obviously have ditched/wont use Qualcomm, because theyre …… making their own modem chip too. Which will be shipping.... 2020.

    Is this really a news story?

  11. harmjr

    I did not know Apple was late to 3G then 4G/LTE world. I would have assumed the iPhone forced those upgrades. Not the other way around.

    • wright_is

      In reply to harmjr:

      No, they were very slow. The oroginal iPhone was 2G, it was only with the 3G and 3GS that they finally implemented 3G support (hence the G in the name), At the time of the iPhone (1) I had an htc with 3G support.

      Edit: changed to reflect ggolcher's and Jason_P's observations. Thanks for the correction.

      • Jason Peter

        In reply to wright_is: The iPhone, the iPhone 2 and the iPhone 3 were all 2G, it was only with the 3GS that they finally implemented 3G support (hence the G in the name),

        The original iPhone had 2G/Edge (summer 2007). There was no iPhone 2. The iPhone 3G (there was no “3”) received 3G in the summer of 2008 (hence the name “3G”).

        Not exactly ones definition of “very slow”...

      • ggolcher

        In reply to wright_is:

        Actually, there was no such thing as an iPhone 2 or 3

        After the OG iPhone they moved on to the iPhone3G, and then iPhone3GS, before moving on to the 4.

        • wright_is

          In reply to ggolcher:

          You guys are correct with the 3G. It still doens't change the fact that other smartphones at the time of the launch of the iPhone (1) where already 3G capable. They just had a lousy interface, compared to the iPhone 3G

  12. madthinus

    That little war with Qualcomm does have a cost it seems. To be honest, 5G is being overblown. It does have improvements to 4G but that is mostly for the operators. 5G can service more devices with the same amount of spectrum. Speedwise it is not much of an upgrade.

    For Apple it also makes sense. Why future proof a phone when you can sell people the year after a new device?

    • wright_is

      In reply to madthinus:

      5G is also a catch-all for slow, low-bandwidth spectrum (E.g. IoT) through to short distance, ultra high speed connections. One of the problems with the high speed stuff is that it is very short range (much shorter than 4G) and has problems with walls and glass.

      4G will be the more robust and probably the preferable solution for a while to come. 5G will be better for stationary connections (E.g. urban high speed broadband).

  13. Skolvikings

    The move to 5G might be a bigger upgrade than 3G to LTE, but make no mistake, the upgrade to LTE was huge. Once in a blue moon I travel in rural area with 3G only coverage and it's horribly slow.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Skolvikings:

      Where I work, I regularly get Edge, about 40% of the time it will get beyond HSPA to LTE. At my old place I mostly got 2G.

      When I was setting up new smartphones at the previous company, I would actually have to leave the building and walk down to the corner of the street to activate the phone.

  14. Stooks

    Android phone makers will add it way, way before it really means anything but will tout it like crazy. Youtube tech sites and traditional tech bloggers will eat it up and publish nonsense about it for a few years.

    When Apple does release support for it it will be just about time to do so, maybe a tad in maybe 5-10% of a country like the US will have REAL 5G....whatever that pans out to be.

    They did the same thing with 4G.